UW examines potential oil boom

30 November 2011

CHEYENNE -- A team from the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming is compiling an oral history about the potential oil boom here.

The UW project involves videotaped interviews with residents in eastern Laramie, Goshen and Platte counties. Interviews focus on how the potential development of the Niobrara shale formation affects them.

Those interviewed include city and county officials, landowners, residents, business owners and people who work in the oil business. A few more interviews will be done, including some in Pine Bluffs, said Leslie Waggener, the American Heritage Center archivist who heads the effort.

The project will record diverse opinions regarding economic, environmental and social issues.

Dale Steenbergen, president and CEO of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, said a team interviewed him last week. He said it’s valuable to have a snapshot in time that the oral history provides.

The project will give a good picture of people’s expectations about the oil play compared to what happened, he said.

A good historical record can help avoid mistakes in the future, he added.

“Anytime you’re discussing a major impact to our community, it’s always positive,” Steenbergen said.

The new oral history project follows a similar effort by the American Heritage Center last year. In that, researchers interviewed people in the Sublette County area affected by energy development. They discussed views on natural-gas development.

Interviews among residents in Laramie, Goshen and Platte counties occur at the same time as residents experience oil development, rather than after. UW hopes to assess people’s views before, during and after development of the Niobrara field.

The information will be part of the heritage center’s research collection.

“We have a whole collection on the business of economic geology,” Waggener said. But the center doesn’t have as much information about the development’s effects on communities.

The project will help others find out how a community prepares, Waggener said.

“We hope that this information will be useful to future towns” that may experience booms, she said. Future generations could find out how to build on the good and mitigate the bad.

So far, researchers have done 17 interviews of about 90 minutes each and nine 10- to 20-minute interviews.

The team interviewed the owners of a gun shop, a bar and a popular Mexican restaurant in Torrington.

They talked to a hotel owner in Wheatland.

In Cheyenne, the team interviewed an employee at Uncle Charlie’s to gain the business perspective.

They spoke to two landowners east of Cheyenne, including one who has refused to allow oil companies on his property.

The team reflects the other side, too. “We’ve heard from others who say this is wonderful,” Waggener said of the oil development.

A man in Wheatland told the team that oil development on his land gives an inheritance to his children and allows the family to pay its debt, she said.

“We’re building a website to contain this information from the Niobrara and Sublette County,” Waggener said, adding that they hope to have it ready by spring.

By Becky Orr

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